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In the Sacramento region, there are a number of small, family-owned restaurants in large shopping centers. Their challenge: to carve out a compelling identity that encourages diners to look beyond the sterile location and step inside for a meal. Folsom Bistro’s creative solution to that challenge? The staff places a beautifully set table on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, located in a shopping center on busy Folsom-Auburn Road. There’s something brazen and whimsical about this approach that makes me think the restaurant possesses quite a personality.
I hope people are drawn to the bistro, because owners Atasha and Matthew Newton (former chef de cuisine at The Firehouse Restaurant and executive chef of Jeanty at Jack’s in San Francisco) have fashioned an attractive and warm little restaurant that is serving up some pretty delicious food. The refreshingly succinct menu offers an enticing selection of American-French bistro fare.
Salads make up half of the appetizers, and I sampled them all. Their common theme was the ebullient freshness of their greens, especially in the airy butter-lettuce salad, swathed in a creamy, cheesy pistachio vinaigrette. A generously sized roasted-beet salad showcased these sweet, earthy root vegetables with peppery arugula leaves, juicy orange segments and tangy, dry-aged sheep cheese, a riotous (and visually dazzling) combination that worked very well.
Soups also were impressive. On one visit, I savored a flavorful asparagus soup that exuded a clean, bright flavor. Another evening, the amuse-bouche was a shot glass of Granny Smith apple-parsnip soup, so rustic and sweetly delectable that I wished I had a whole bowl. Other appetizers include battered, deep-fried smelts—tiny, fingertip-size fish—served with a robust whole-grain-mustard aioli. While tasty, the fish were extremely awkward to eat; the heavy batter slid off on contact. More successful (and much easier to consume) were the pleasant duck rillettes, a pâtélike spread of duck confit and goat cheese, served with cornichons and crunchy toast points.
The lunch and dinner menus share several entrées, such as the chicken-mushroom crêpes. Napped with a velvety pesto-goat cheese cream sauce, the large crêpes are stuffed with tender chunks of chicken and soft shiitake mushrooms. If you’re dieting, this may be a dangerous meal, but I chose to revel in its extravagance rather than feel guilty. Other noteworthy lunch items include a side dish of garlicky broccoli raab, a substantial and cheesy chicken Caesar salad, and a fat Kobe burger. Topped with caramelized onions and tomato slices, the burger was very difficult to eat; its focaccia bun, not sturdy enough for the dish, absorbed the meat’s juices and basically dissolved en route to my mouth. It was, however, scrumptious—just avoid wearing long sleeves if you plan to order it.
In the evening, Folsom Bistro offers a relaxing, genial atmosphere. Soft jazz murmurs in the background and young, eager servers wax enthusiastic about the menu. Dinner items I sampled were rich and hearty; it was clear the kitchen uses butter and cream with abandon. An exceptional dish was the braised beef short ribs, so tender and fragrant I couldn’t bear to share even one bite. Resting on a delightful parsnip purée, the ribs came with Blue Lake green beans and were the perfect meaty partner to my spicy, garnet-red Zinfandel. Other recommended entrées include the Maple Leaf duck breast, perched atop a lavish celery-root purée and accompanied by darling little tournéed carrots and turnips, and a very thick boneless pork loin, smoky and moist, enlivened with a brisk peppercorn sauce.
If you have a sweet tooth, you might want to save room for dessert. All are prepared by Evelyn Newton, the chef’s mother. I especially enjoyed her gentle, silky crème brûlée, harboring chunks of poached pear and almond slices beneath its pretty, caramelized top. The likable carrot cake was garnished with candied grated carrots and served with an intriguing dulce de leche sauce. However, the chocolate tart was, sadly, almost inedible: Dry and dense, with a bitter, unpleasant edge, the chocolate filling rested in a tart shell that was, inexplicably, completely soft.
Folsom Bistro, with its periwinkle-blue walls, warm and attentive service, and sturdy, satisfying menu, is a great example of a small, independently owned restaurant that’s worth seeking out—even if you have no shopping plans.
Order the fries: The pommes frites are crisp, hot and fashionably skinny
No sitter required: Folsom Bistro is kid-friendly, with a children’s menu and tables topped with white paper, perfect for crayon masterpieces
Folsom Bistro: 6608 Folsom-Auburn Road, Folsom; (916) 990-0630; folsombistro.com
Hours: Lunch Monday–Saturday 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; dinner Monday–Thursday 4:30 p.m.–9 p.m., Friday–Saturday 4:30 p.m.–midnight, closed Sunday